The Last Word: Golden gaffers bring sack race to finish line
Owners must stick with trusty old hands like Harry and Roy and stop searching for superstar saviours
Sunday 09 May 2010
Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp should be knighted. Not for their services to Fulham and Tottenham or even for their services to the anti-capitalist movement in proving money can buy you possessions but it does not mean you will necessarily then keep possession. No, the Queen should be declaring "Arise Sir Woy, Arise Sir 'Arry" very soon because of "services to Premier League managers". Thanks to this pair, the most precarious position of employment in the footballing marketplace is now one of the safest. So easy lie the heads who wear the crowns.
Of course, there are financial reasons why the Premier League sack race has this last season rivalled the Garry Cook fan club for paucity in numbers. The economic rise of the manager coincided with the economic demise of the country with such uncanny timing that it might well have been drawn up by Goldman Sachs itself. Here's how the perfect storm unfolded.
A decade or so ago, the men in the duffel coats became fed up with being dismissed so effortlessly and cheaply and sought bigger salaries and tighter contracts to make up for their lack of job security. With Rupert Murdoch handing England's elite clubs the resources to feel truly elitist, the managers still found themselves being summarily fired – but at least they could now afford to retreat to the golf courses of Spain rather than the job queues of Norwich. The living was good, even if the forgiving remained non-existent.
But then the boom went bust and with what was the Premier League left? A going rate for managers that was way too high. And a leaving rate that was even higher. With the top clubs also being forced to sign up to a binding arbitration process which would rule on contentious pay-offs, the Gaffer was more expensive to get rid of than ever. In some cases far too expensive.
Take Rafael Benitez at Liverpool. If his exit fee was £1 million instead of £10m, and if his assistants could be sent on their way with comparable peanuts, do you think he would still be in charge for today's cliff-hanger which shall determine whether Liverpool finish sixth or seventh? But maybe with a hitherto undisclosed deep understanding of football, Tom Hicks and George Gillett saw the futility of heaping all the blame on the dolt in the dugout.
The three Premier League managers who have been relieved of their duties in this campaign will be fully justified this evening in pointing at the table with one hand, while shoving the notes back into their overflowing wallet with the other, and asking the questions: "Why? What for? What exactly have you gained out of this?" When Gary Megson left Bolton he had garnered 18 points from 18 games. Owen Coyle has 18 points from 19 games. When Phil Brown was stood down at Hull they had 24 points from 29 games. Iain Dowie has five from eight. You do the maths. In a results industry these cannot be classed as progressions.
Over at Eastlands, however, Roberto Mancini is claiming "a lot of improvement" since he arrived via the back door as Mark Hughes was unceremoniously hauled out of the front with the bins. Mancini must be quantifying Manchester City's "improvement" by something other than wins, draws and losses as a move up from an average of 1.71 points a game to 1.85 points – and fifth place from sixth – hardly signifies "a lot" whatever the cut of your scarf. As far as City and their Abu Dhabi billionaires are concerned, "a lot" can only be the description of the perceived glamour he has brought. The sheikhs didn't think the grim-faced Welshman matched their ambitions. Fair enough. Yet neither so far has the flash Italian.
This is where Sir Woy and Sir 'Arry come in. Owners now have the examples, if not the excuse, to stick with the trusty old hands and ignore their "bright-new-thing" temptations. The urge to replace has never seemed so foolhardy, the rush to appoint a superstar saviour never so unnecessary. Not when you look at the achievements of Fulham and Spurs.
Granted, neither of Hodgson or Redknapp has been in their respective hot seats for any great time. But originally they were seen as stop-gap managers, there to do a job and then to make way for the genuine visionaries. Well, who's fulfilling the dreams now? They have reaffirmed that there's not some great secret to management, not some mythical key which unlocks the door to football's exclusive set. It's just good ol' footballing know-how. For Redknapp to deduce in an instant that all Spurs needed was a little balance to allow the talent to tip its scale. For Hodgson to arrange his limited resources in such an efficient manner that the barriers of class and obstacles of fatigue could be broken down.
Thanks to the golden gaffers, who made this run-in so heart-warming for neutral fans, experience and stability are becoming the buzz words. No doubt certain chief executives will continue to inflate their own egos by canoodling on the continent with the big names. But the realisation is dawning that the answer is already in the Premier League and very likely already at the club. The Martin O'Neills, the David Moyeses, the Steve Bruces, the Alex McLeishes, the Tony Pulises... all good managers and true.
The unexpected glories down the Lane and by the River merely underlines that they must be extended the time to carry on the building – and the financial implications of the panic move mean they surely will be. Yes the managerial merry-go-round appears to be grinding to its long-needed halt. Have you ever seen a merrier bunch?
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